From VAWA to JVTA: Protecting Victims and Preventing Sexual Crimes
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From VAWA to JVTA: The Power of Federal Anti-Assault and Trafficking Laws

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Federal Anti-Assault and Trafficking Laws

In recent years, the United States has seen significant legislative efforts aimed at combating sexual assault, sex trafficking, and related forms of violence and exploitation. These efforts have included the enactment and reauthorization of several key federal laws. Notable among these are the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA), Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), and Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA). Each of these legislative acts addresses facets of sexual violence and trafficking, aiming to provide protection, support, and justice for victims, while also establishing methods to prevent these crimes and prosecute offenders.

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2022 (VAWA)

Originally written by President Joe Biden in 1994 when he was a member of the Senate, and then Senator from Utah, Orrin Hatch, VAWA has been pivotal in fighting abuses of power and gender-based violence. The 2022 reauthorization broadened the act to include several critical enhancements for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking:

  • Cybercrimes Against Individuals:

    VAWA established a federal civil cause of action for individuals whose intimae images are distributed without their consent, helping victims recover damages and legal fees.

  • Improvements in Prevention and Response:

The reauthorization improves prevention and response to sexual violence through increased support for programs like the Rape Prevention and Education Program               and the Sexual Assault Service Program. It also expanded prevention education for students in higher education.

  • Support for Underserved Communities:

    The act increased services and support for survivors from underserved and marginalized communities, including LGBTQ+ survivors. It funds survivor-centered, community-based programs, and increased support for culturally specific services and services in rural communities.

  • Expansion of Tribal Courts Jurisdiction:

    It broadened the special criminal jurisdiction of Tribal courts to include non-Native perpetrators of sexual assault, child abuse, and sex trafficking on tribal lands.  It also supported the development of a pilot project in Alaska Native villages to enhance safety for survivors.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA)             

First passed in 2000, the TVPA is the cornerstone of federal anti-sex trafficking legislation. It has been reauthorized multiple times to strengthen its core principles: Prosecution, Protection, Prevention. Key enhancements of the 2022 reauthorization include:

  • Making the US Advisory Council on Human Trafficking Permanent

  • Expanded Victim Support

  • Reauthorization of Grants/Programs

  • Improved Research & Reporting

  • Stronger Federal Agency Response

Why are these enhancements significant? Because they are victim-centered, this increases resources and support for the healing and recovery of survivors. Sustainability was also addressed, because key structures and programs were made permanent, thereby strengthening the long-term anti-trafficking landscape. Finally, the enhancements helped make the legislation more effective by identifying areas for improvement, which has led to improved data collection and transparency, providing for enhanced accountability.

“By making the TVPA stronger, Congress has made our nation stronger,” emphasized Bradley Myles, CEO of the Polaris Project, which operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline. “Now we need to provide commensurate resources and leadership. In this fight. It’s time to put an end to the insidious crime of forced labor and sex trafficking here and around the world.”

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA)

Originally enacted in 2015, this legislation enhanced support for victims and strengthened law enforcement tools through vehicles like these:

  • Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Fund:

    This fund provided support services for victims of child sex trafficking, which were derived from fines and penalties imposed in convicted traffickers.

  • U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking:

    Created a council including survivors, service providers, and law enforcement to provide ongoing advice on the nation’s anti-trafficking efforts.

  • Mandatory Restitution:

    Required those convicted of trafficking offenses to pay restitution to victims.

Recent reauthorization has allowed for some notable improvements, including:

  • Focus on Online Trafficking:

    Strengthened tools for investigating and prosecuting online offenses.

  • Addressing Child Exploitation:

    Increased resources and efforts to prevent the online recruitment of children for sex trafficking.

  • Improved Data Collection:

    Provided the tools necessary to allow better tracking/reporting of trafficking cases to better pinpoint trends and allocate resources more effectively.

  • Support for Tribal Initiatives:

    Provided resources and support to address the unique challenges faced by trafficking victims in tribal communities.

“The Justice for victims of Trafficking Act sends a strong message that we will not tolerate the exploitation of our children,” said Senator John Cornyn. “By providing essential resources to support victims and holding offenders accountable, we can create a safer future for all Americans.”

The federal legislation addressing sexual assault and sex trafficking represents a hard-fought battle for justice and survivor protection. Acts like the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA), the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), and the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA) provide pathways to healing, work to deter perpetrators, and public education. These laws demonstrate a shift in societal attitudes and a commitment to dismantling systems of exploitation. Cindy McCain, former Chair of the Human Trafficking Advisory Council, summed it up best:

“Human trafficking is a stain on humanity, and we must all stand together to end it.

 These laws are a critical step, but our work won’t be complete until every victim

 is safe and every trafficker is brought to justice.”